I’ve written in Fake it Until you Make It and more recently the Vicious Circle about how to short circuit uncomfortable situations before they escalate. Today I’d like to talk about how you can be a part of stopping the situation from occurring in the first place. Once again I want to reiterate that I’m well aware how hard some of this work is if you have a genuine fear you’re trying to overcome. I really do get it.
When I go to assist people with float training or ground work they’re often amazed that the horse simply does as I ask. Now I have to say it’s a good moment when it all goes to plan but I’m certainly not promoting myself as any sort of a ‘horse whisperer’! There are those out there who’re much better horse handlers than I who I enjoy continuing to learn from. The primary difference between what I do with the horse and what the owners do with their horse is that I fully expect the horse to do what I ask. I arrive with little knowledge of the horse, no history with it and I pick up the lead rope, apply my aids clearly and I expect what I do to work. The horse responds to that energy, recognizes me as the leader and generally, tries to do as I ask.
Contrast this with an owner, maybe you, who’s had bad experiences in the past. You may have even been hurt, you’ve certainly been a little scared. You definitely don’t want those situations to arise again, perfectly understandable. BUT, you continue to go into your interaction with your horse with that fear-based mind-set, with that fear-based body language, and with probably a fuzziness in your aids so the horse isn’t 100% clear what’s being asked of it. You’re not acting like a leader for your horse, he gets a bit worried, may give an incorrect response, or, take advantage of you and all your fears start to take form. Sound familiar?
The next time you’re going to ask your horse to do something from the ground I want you to think about your body language, your mental image of the outcome and ask him with the full expectation that he’s going to do as you ask. Adjusting these actions is certainly not as easy as it sounds there for some of you. A very useful tool can be to really, really think these techniques through away from your horse. I find when I’m confronted by a situation where I may be a little nervous it’s useful to run the situation through in my head a few times to ease that anxiety. The key to this is to ensure the story you think through has a good ending!!
Once you’ve thought your task through and can do so without those pesky butterflies fluttering their wings in your tummy it’s time to try it with your horse. What you’re asking doesn’t have to be a huge task. Start small! Build up to the big challenges. It doesn’t all have to happen overnight and it’s better if it doesn’t to be honest. You want a solid foundation to build upon. There’s no point rushing through as you’re likely to find yourself building the third floor of a high-rise without ensuring you’ve the first two floors and that really IS going to end in disaster. When I coach nervous riders I often wait for them to start to look a little bored with the task before we move on. Being bored with something because you can do it without any worry and can perform the task competently is often a good place to get to!
Learning new skills takes time and we frequently have unrealistic expectations of how long things will take. I do a lot of this sort of work with clients online, over Skype and email. Coaching nervous riders and working them through these challenges is the most rewarding work I do. Please drop me a line on email@example.com if you’re interested in learning more, I’d love to hear from you!